As twin brothers, sometimes Vlad and Slava Gilszmer can be difficult to distinguish from each other.
“People who we just meet, they can’t tell the difference,” Vlad said.
And even for those who know the two Kamiak High School juniors well, it can be a bit challenging to differentiate the standout swimming twins when they’re at the pool.
“You put a cap and goggles on them and an identical team suit, then it’s a little harder,” Knights coach Chris Erickson said.
Yet while telling them apart can be tough at times, it’s usually pretty easy to pick out the Gilszmer twins from the rest of a pack. Out of the water, they’re the ones towering over just about everyone else. And in the water, they’re typically the ones racing past the competition.
The latter was especially the case in the 500-yard freestyle during last February’s Class 4A state championships, when the twins distanced themselves from the rest of the field and took the top two spots on the podium.
Vlad burst to an early lead in the race and cruised to the state title, churning through the water with his tall frame in a winning time of 4 minutes, 35.12 seconds. Slava placed second in 4:40.61, finishing more than 2.5 seconds ahead of the third-place medalist.
“I was pretty happy, because we train pretty hard the whole year, and then it finally paid off at state when we won first and second,” Vlad said.
The Gilszmer twins also helped Kamiak to a relay state title last season, teaming with then-junior Maxwell Fang and then-senior Alex Kirby to claim the 400 freestyle relay state crown.
“It was Alex’s final year, so to finish off with a first place was nice,” Slava said.
The 1-2 individual state finish and the relay state title were simply the biggest highlights in what’s been a success-filled first two years of prep swimming for the Gilszmers.
Midway through their high school careers, the twins already have combined for seven individual state medals in freestyle events, including four top-four state finishes. That includes a second-place medal that Vlad earned in the 500 freestyle as a freshman.
In addition, Vlad also helped Kamiak to a runner-up state finish in the 200 medley relay during his freshman year. And last season, both Vlad and Slava were part of the Knights’ 200 freestyle relay team, which claimed a third-place state medal and posted the eighth-fastest time in 4A state-meet history.
Erickson said that while their height certainly helps, the twins’ accomplishments thus far are a tribute to hard work and consistency.
“At the beginning, when you’re bigger and stronger as a younger kid, that’s certainly a huge advantage,” Erickson said. “And it’s not a bad thing now, but really it’s dedication and training. There’s a lot of big and strong people that don’t necessarily go fast.
“So it’s just been their consistency over the years, their dedication over the years and their support and their competitiveness over the years.”
Born in Ukraine, the Gilszmer twins said they moved with their family to the United States at around age 6 or 7. A couple of years later, they tried out for a swim team and developed a passion for the sport. They also played basketball and a bit of football while growing up, but decided last year to focus solely on swimming.
“We just tried out (swimming) and we really liked it, so we just kept doing it,” Vlad said. “And it worked out pretty good for us.”
Having always been on the same swim teams, Vlad and Slava have spent years training with each other. And because they’ve mostly done the same events, they’re often either competing with or against each other.
One example of their friendly rivalry occurred earlier this month at the Pacific Northwest Swimming Short Course Championships. Slava finished ahead of Vlad by 0.21 seconds in the 200 backstroke preliminaries, but Vlad returned the favor in the finals, beating his brother by 0.29 seconds to take third place.
“It’s pretty fun,” Vlad said. “We always try to beat one another, so it’s pretty competitive. … Before the meets, we’re always talking how we’re going to beat each other, and it just makes us go faster.”
Erickson said he thinks the 500 freestyle is the top high school event for both of them at this point, but they also excel in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
“They may or may not swim the same events this year,” Erickson said. “They may be competitive with each other, or they may go a different direction.”
In addition to the Gilszmer twins, the Knights have another elite freestyler in Fang. The standout senior earned a pair of top-four state finishes last season and helped Kamiak to two top-three state relay medals.
“We’ve got three incredible athletes,” Erickson said. “… Having three (swimmers with) the ability to hold school records — and they probably all will at the end — in the pool at the same time is pretty special.”
As successful as the Gilszmers have been thus far, Erickson said they’re continuing to improve aspects such as their starts, wall turns and distance per stroke.
“Their technique is improving with their size and strength, so that makes that exciting,” Erickson said.
The Gilszmer twins both said they have aspirations of swimming collegiately. According to CollegeSwimming.com, Vlad is the seventh-ranked overall junior recruit in the state and Slava is ranked No. 20.
“They’re only juniors,” Erickson said, “but I think they’re definitely on a path to an exciting college career.”